ENSURING HIGH QUALITY IN DISTANCE EDUCATION FOR COLLEGE CREDIT
WHEREAS, one of the most pronounced trends in higher education is the exponential growth of distance education coursework, which commonly describes courses in which nearly all the interaction between the teacher and student is not in the same classroom but takes place electronically; and
WHEREAS, the importance of distance education is underscored by the increase in courses for college credit ranging from workforce training to undergraduate and graduate programs--sometimes, in fact, covering an entire academic degree program--and the increase in the number of distance education providers, including a large and growing number of for-profit enterprises; and
WHEREAS, high-quality distance education programs--including video-based and Internet-based coursework--hold great potential for serving, among others, geographically isolated and homebound students, as well as students whose personal and professional obligations make it impossible for them to regularly attend college-based programs; and
WHEREAS, it is essential that distance education courses have the same level of academic rigor as traditional courses and that there is a high level of interchange among students, and between students and their professors, in distance education courses; and
WHEREAS, the AFT has a long history of involvement with distance education, including two convention resolutions enacted in 1996 and 1998, numerous publications on distance education issues and trends, and advocacy to keep quality front and center in the policy debate about distance education; and
WHEREAS, in a continuation of that involvement, AFT recently conducted a survey of college faculty who teach distance education courses, to assist the union in developing basic principles of good educational practice in distance education; and
WHEREAS, the survey indicated that practitioners overwhelmingly believe higher education should move forward with distance education, even as they described a variety of problems, including the need for greater support to faculty developing distance coursework, the need for more faculty and student training in employing technologies, the difficulties of teaching and evaluating certain subjects in cyberspace and the challenges of maintaining high motivation among students from a distance; and
WHEREAS, over 70 percent of the practitioners responding to a survey question indicated that no more than half of a full undergraduate degree program should be offered by distance education, citing the importance of same-time same-place communication as part of the undergraduate experience; and
WHEREAS, the AFT is working to develop formal Guidelines for Good Practice in Distance Education based on the practitioner survey and the findings of other organizations engaged in this subject in order to focus the policy debate on access and quality and to assist affiliates in developing positions that advance good practice in their negotiations and public advocacy:
RESOLVED, that the AFT guidelines in distance education include, among others, the following broad principles:
- Academic teaching faculty must maintain control of shaping, approving and evaluating distance education courses.
- The faculty teaching distance education courses must be provided adequate time, compensation, training and technical support to develop and conduct courses. Faculty should not be required to teach in this medium.
- Distance education students must be given advance information about course requirements, equipment needs and techniques for succeeding in a distance environment, as well as technical training and support throughout the course.
- No student should have to be offered distance education as his or her only opportunity to obtain a public college education.
- Designing distance education courses should not be approached in terms of replicating the traditional classroom but in terms of maximizing the potential of the medium that will be employedfaculty must be provided appropriate technical assistance to achieve this.
- Close personal interaction must be maintained in distance education courses among students and between teachers and students through electronic means, and, whenever feasible, opportunities for same-time same-place interaction should be provided.
- Class size should be consistent with high student-teacher interactivity and should be determined through normal faculty procedures to ensure high educational quality.
- Equivalent library materials and research opportunities must be provided to distance education students.
- Assessment of student knowledge, skills and performance using standards as rigorous as those in classroom-based courses.
- The same level of student advisement and counseling must be maintained for distance education students.
- Faculty should retain creative control over the use and re-use of distance education materials.
- Full undergraduate degree programs should include classroom-based coursework, with exceptions permitted on a case-by-case basis for students truly unable to participate in classroom education.
- Research on the effectiveness of distance education for particular subjects and different types of students should be accelerated.
- Professional staff be recognized as critical to the quality of distance education and that their full involvement be recognized with adequate resources and funding.
RESOLVED, that the AFT's recent survey of distance education practitioners as well as the Guidelines for Good Practice in Distance Education under development be periodically updated, and AFT continue providing reports on distance education trends and contractual provisions in order to keep the AFT membership apprised of quickly changing developments in this field.